Category Archives: Vezot Habracha

The Beginning of Anti-Semitism (Vezot Habracha)

The Beginning of Anti-Semitism (Vezot Habracha)

The jealous are possessed by a mad devil and a dull spirit at the same time. -Johann Kaspar Lavater

During his last moments on Earth, Moses blesses the nation of Israel. He blesses them collectively as well as each tribe in particular. In his poetic blessing, he recounts how God revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and gave the nation of Israel the Torah at that momentous gathering.

The Berdichever quotes the well-known Midrash that before giving the Torah to the Jewish nation He offered the Torah to the other nations of the world. Each nation inquired of God as to what was written in this Torah He was offering them. God mentions it says “don’t steal,” or “don’t murder,” or whatever commandment He knew that particular nation would find too much for them to want to adhere to. In turn, each nation turns down God’s offer of the Torah.

The Jewish people famously go on to accept the Torah before even hearing any details as to what’s written in it. According to the Berdichever, this blind faith in God and acceptance of the Torah caused two different reactions. It endeared the Jewish people to God even more, but it also gave birth to what we call anti-Semitism, the pervasive and often irrational hatred of the Jewish people.

The Berdichever says the hatred is hinted at in the very name Sinai (it has the same Hebrew root as the word “sina” which means hatred). The favored attention of God for the Jewish people and their receipt of the Torah from God generated massive jealousy from the nations of the world. There was no such hatred of the Jewish people before the giving of the Torah. After the giving of the Torah starts the global phenomena of non-Jews hating Jews for no other reason than their being Jewish. The Jew-hatred extends to people who have never even met a Jew.

The Berdichever indicates that the Jew-hatred doesn’t stem from any wrongdoing a Jew may have done, nor from any offense a non-Jew may have suffered from the hand of an individual Jew. Rather it comes from deep jealousy of the Jewish people, starting from our collective ancestors at Mount Sinai. The Jewish people elected to accept God’s detailed and often demanding laws, which created both a great responsibility as well as a closer connection to the divine, while the nations of the world opted out of such a possibility (on a national basis). They hate us for that; even if they don’t realize it. It has expressed itself in multiple incarnations and with a plethora of excuses throughout the generations, but underlying it all is simple jealousy of our relationship with God.

May we see the prophesized end of anti-Semitism speedily and in our days.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To my beloved in-laws, Yossi & Gita Tocker, on their 50th wedding anniversary! Mazal Tov!!!!!

Afterlife Reunions (Vezot Habracha)

Afterlife Reunions (Vezot Habracha)

Time is not what you think. Dying? Not the end of everything. We think it is. But what happens on earth is only the beginning. -Mitch Albom

Of all the great unknowns of our world, death, life after death and what we call the afterlife remain a mystery clouded by uncertainty, different beliefs, lack of belief and limited scientific evidence. Jewish tradition on the other hand has a number of firmly held beliefs as well as extensive lore about what the afterlife is about, what rules apply and some insights about what the experience entails. Not surprisingly, we glean some of that inside information from tidbits Moses left for us in the Bible.

On his last day on Earth, Moses addresses the assembled nation of Israel as they sit on the Plains of Moab, staring across the Jordan River at the Land of Canaan, The Promised Land. Moses quotes God and declares:

“This is the land that I promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to say, to your progeny I will bequeath it.”

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Deuteronomy 34:4 (Vezot Habrachah) reads from this verse references and hints as to how things are in the afterlife. When Moses quotes God above and adds the seemingly superfluous words of “to say,” Rabbeinu Bechaye, quoting the Talmud, states that God was instructing Moses that when he’s dead at the end of that day, he should directly tell the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that God fulfilled His promises. This implies that in the afterlife, Moses would be meeting the Patriarchs and be able to talk with them.

However, the Talmud continues to explain that the dead are aware of not only what’s going on and have interactions in the afterlife, but that they’re also aware and even involved in some measure in the occurrences back on Earth in the material dimension. If that’s the case, then why does God instruct Moses to inform the Patriarchs about what they already know?

The Talmud answers that the Patriarchs do indeed know what’s going on and that Moses wasn’t informing them of anything they didn’t know when he conveyed God’s message. However, God wanted Moses to be in the Patriarch’s good grace as the agent and as a messenger of the good tidings of the final fulfillment of God’s promise of centuries before.

It is comforting to know that included in the many aspects of Jewish belief about the afterlife, we’ll be able to hangout with our spiritual kin as well as stay up-to-date about what’s going on with our people and our loved ones in the mortal world.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To Ari Fuld’s (hy”d) family. Their strength and resilience have inspired an entire nation, in addition to Ari’s own character and heroism. May God comfort them among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Dark Fire

Dark Fire

The crux is that the vast majority of the mass of the universe seems to be missing. -William J. Broad

Cosmologists have a problem. According to their observations and calculations, our universe should have significantly more matter and energy than they are able to perceive. They have termed these mysterious forces as “dark matter” and “dark energy” though they frankly don’t know what either of these things might be. They estimate that dark matter and dark energy respectively make up as much as 26.8% and 68.3% of our known universe (together 95.1%!). The cosmos that our puny brains and science can currently observe and define makes up less than 5% of the composition of our universe.

In this regard, more than one hundred years ago, Rabbi Hirsch comments on the 3,000 year old passage in Deuteronomy 33:2. He touches on his own divine cosmological explanation, with a term the sages called “dark fire.” It is an unseen power that is responsible for everything in our universe (think of Star Wars’ “the Force”) and in my opinion, might even account for some of the mass and energy that modern science is unable to perceive or measure. However, what is most interesting about Rabbi Hirsch’s description is that man is the only creature that may actually have some say, some control, on how this unseen, elemental force plays a role in his life:

 “Esh (fire) is the force that generates movement, change and life in all physical creations; the dark, invisible fire, as our Sages call it, through which the eternal, God-given laws for the universe are fulfilled. These laws operate in all creatures without their being aware of them, and independently of their will. But these same laws, established and willed by God, the Supreme Consciousness and Will, and operating through the almighty power of His will, are to work differently with man, the creature called upon to exercise moral free will. In the case of man, God’s Law is not to operate from within him, without his conscious will; it is to come to him from without, so that, out of his own free volition, he may absorb it in his mind and will.”

Rabbi Hirsch then draws a parallel between this dark fire and the Torah. He posits that the Torah is somehow “fire-become-law”, a humanly comprehensible insight and access into some of these elemental forces. By fulfilling God’s Law we can take conscious control of these powers as well as our own personal destinies.

We no longer need a Jedi Master to instruct us as to the workings of the universe. All its secrets might be found in the Torah.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,



To the memory of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, whose powerful commentary has accompanied us this entire year.

Pre-Incarnated Unity



 The soul gives unity to what it looks at with love. -Thomas Carlyle


At what was perhaps the most transcendent moment in human history, God reveals Himself to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, where the Ten Commandments are uttered and God gives the remainder of the Written and Oral Torah to Moses. Every single one of the Children of Israel who was alive at that time, shortly after the Exodus from Egypt, hears and senses God at prophetic levels.

There follows a question as to how this bond, this covenant that was formed at Sinai can continue through the long generations and millennia since that singular event. What connects, what unites the descendants of those who stood at Sinai with the ancestors who witnessed the barely filtered presence of God?

Amongst many answers, a popular one is that the soul of every Jew was at Sinai, even if he hadn’t been born yet. Somehow, at this defining event for the Jewish people, every Jewish soul, alive as well as unborn, through all the generations, was present for the receipt of the Torah, for the establishment of the everlasting covenant with God.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 33:3 adds another facet to this well known explanation. He elaborates that not only was the soul of every future Jew in history present at Sinai, but that even the souls of future converts were present at the encounter. That the truth is that their souls were there as well, and heard and received the Torah. When they convert, they are merely reconnecting and reclaiming that spiritual heritage that was rightfully theirs from so long ago, where we all accepted the divine mission as one united people.

May our souls re-accept the Torah on a regular basis.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To the unifying Sukah of the Lefler family.

Stolen Inheritance

First posted on The Times of Israel at:

Netziv Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

Stolen Inheritance

You may not be able to leave your children a great inheritance, but day by day, you may be weaving coats for them which they will wear for all eternity.  -Theodore L. Cuyler

Jewish education starts at the youngest possible age. We start by teaching children verses from the Bible, often with a melody. One of the first verses and perhaps one of the most important ones is from Deuteronomy 33:4:

“The Torah was commanded to us by Moses, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.”

There is something fundamental about the fact that Moses transmitted the words of God to us. And there is something equally important about the Torah being our inheritance.

The Netziv explains this verse further and states that not only is the Torah, Jewish law and tradition our inheritance, not only is it central to Jewish life and continuity, but whoever withholds the transmission of Jewish jurisprudence from their students is as if they are stealing their inheritance.

Parents have not only the responsibility, but the obligation to pass on the chain of tradition to their children. And if their own parents failed in that transmission, it does not absolve them of reclaiming that treasure and passing it on to future generations. It is woefully true that in many families the chain has been broken. Lip service is paid to our Jewish heritage. The most minimal, superficial, watered-down aspects of Judaism is sometimes all that remains. There is so much more!

Let us not be the generation that let the chain remain broken. Let us reforge the chain. Let us insure a Jewish tomorrow for our families. It starts with education.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



To Ronit Stolovas and Nadia Dzimalkowski who have taken upon themselves the coordination of meals for the Uruguayan Shabbos Project – the biggest communal education project of the year.

¡Viva la Constitución!

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomio: Vezot Habraja

united states constitution 

¡Viva la Constitución!

“Hay algo detrás del trono más grande que el propio rey.”-William Pitt

Desde el comienzo de la civilización, los reyes y gobernantes han sido una parte necesaria de la cadena alimentaria de organización jerárquica. Una vez que la comunidad, la sociedad o el país alcanza un cierto tamaño y sofisticación, es necesario que haya una persona para hacerse cargo del grupo. Para la mayoría de la historia, esa persona era un rey.

Sin embargo, ser nacido en Estados Unidos y en su mayoría educado en Estados Unidos tengo una afinidad especial e incluso el amor a la constitución de los EE.UU. La constitución consagra y codifica la supremacía de los principios más de personalidades y se ha evitado la mayoría de los excesos que son la norma de los déspotas. Hay algo más grande que el gobernante designado.

Ibn Ezra en Deuteronomio 33:5 establece una conexión relacionada. La Torá en el versículo habla de un rey, pero Ibn Ezra explica que en realidad está aludiendo a la Torá misma. No sólo la majestad, la nobleza, la grandeza, la necesidad y el requisito de tener, respetar y honrar la Torá, sino también la supremacía que la Torá debe tener en nuestras vidas. La Torá es el jefe, la Torá es la que toma las decisiones. La Torá, sus principios y las instrucciones son las que tenemos que seguir, más que cualquier burócrata designado o de la personalidad real.

Que podamos encontrar los principios regios de la Torá que se aplican a nosotros y les rinden homenaje adecuado.


Para la Torá. Que podamos bailar con ella con felicidad y alegría (y no embriaguez …)

Long Live the Constitution

[First posted on The Times of Israel at:]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

Long Live the Constitution

“There is something behind the throne greater than the King himself.” -William Pitt The Elder Chatham

Since the beginning of civilization, kings and rulers have been a necessary part of the hierarchical and organizational food chain. Once the community, society or country reaches a certain size and sophistication, there needs to be one person taking charge of the group. For the majority of history, such a person was a King.

However, being American-born and mostly American-educated I have a special affinity and even love for the U.S. constitution. It enshrines and codifies the supremacy of principles over personalities and has mostly averted the excesses that are the norm of despots. There is something greater than the appointed ruler.

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 33:5 makes a related connection. The Torah in the verse speaks of a King, but Ibn Ezra explains that it is really alluding to the Torah itself. Not only the majesty, the nobility, the grandeur, the necessity and the requirement of having, respecting and honoring the Torah, but also the supremacy that Torah should have in our lives. The Torah is the boss, the Torah is the one calling the shots. The Torah, its principles and instructions are the ones we need to follow, more so than any appointed bureaucrat or royal personality.

May we find the kingly principles of the Torah that apply to us and pay them proper homage.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,



To the Torah. May we dance with it in joy (and not drunkenness…)

International House of Prayer

[Previously posted at The Times of Israel:]

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

 International House of Prayer

“For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” -Isaiah 56:7

There is much written in the Bible, the Talmud and later Rabbinic literature as to the place of the Jewish people amongst the nations. One of the most direct lines is God’s statement that the Jews shall become “a nation of priests” (Kohanim). Many of us are familiar with the term “Kohen” (priest) and the exalted status they have in Jewish history and society. However, what many may have forgotten is that the root of the word, the formative verb, is “lekhahen” (to serve).

Simply put, the nation of Israel is meant to serve the nations of the world. To be a beacon of wisdom, morality, justice and kindness. Not a far off, distant light that gives no warmth, but a close, approachable hearth that welcomes those that wish to warm themselves and learn and share in our experiences. To set an example of families, communities and hopefully a country worth emulating. To assist others in connecting to our positive values and historic lessons.

The Ohr Hachayim (on Deuteronomy 33:7) goes even further in his analysis. Not only is there a need by the nations of the world for the Jewish people, there is a symbiotic and even an eschatologically (look it up…) dependent relationship. Jews need the Gentiles and cannot fulfill their mission without them. The most poignant example, the one that the Ohr Hachayim highlights, is the story of Ruth the Moabite (see my ongoing novelization).

He claims that while the tribe of Judah was destined to produce the king of Israel, that destiny would never come to play until the Gentile, Ruth the Moabite, brought her unique spark to the people of Israel. Only then could Jewish and world history follow its course and lead to a better future.

May we live to see Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled, that the House of God in Jerusalem shall truly be a House of Prayer for all the nations.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,



 To my Gentile friends and readers. You are sparks that I’m honored to glean much light from.

The Teacher’s Sacrifice

Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

The Teacher’s Sacrifice

“Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.” -Aristotle

Jewish law dictates significant esteem and honor to ones teacher – sometimes above that of a parent. In our current age such a concept may seem unfathomable. How can this often minimum-wage earner, this socio-economic struggler, this stranger who lectures us, this quasi-professional who may not be qualified to otherwise participate in the workforce be placed on a pedestal above the people who brought us into the world?

As a student, I was subjected to a plethora of mediocre and perhaps even lousy teachers, with a sprinkling of good ones. Once every few years I would cross paths with an extraordinary and even inspiring teacher. I feel their impact to this day. I am now privileged to live in a community with an inordinately high percentage of teachers. I find most of these teachers to be passionate, dedicated and inspiring (and easily qualified to have chosen any profession they may have desired). However, the Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 33:9) hints at the price they pay – and he is not referring to the financial one.

Moses blesses the tribes in his final speech. The Tribe of Levi was apparently destined to be a tribe of teachers, instructing the Children of Israel as to God’s Laws. To the Levites Moses states the following hard-to-understand line:

“Who said of his father, and of his mother: ‘I have not seen them’; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew he his own children.”

The Kli Yakar explains that these Levite/Teachers are so committed to their studies; they are so absorbed in their teaching profession, that they simply have insufficient time for their family. Not for their parents, not for their siblings and not even for their own children.

This is unfortunately not an uncommon phenomenon among teaching families.

May we all, teacher and non-teachers alike find the right work/family balance and may we also remember that our family are perhaps our most important students.

Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatimah Tovah,



To all the teachers in my life. Thank you.

Warrior Prophets: Prologue 1 – Stopping Moses

Warrior Prophets: Prologue 1

Stopping Moses

Boaz and five of his friends hid behind the gooseberry bushes on the Moabite plain. Heart-sized red fruit adorned the bright green bushes. Boaz’s back was to the flowing Jordan River, with the walled city of Jericho sitting lonely in the distance. From the Moabite plain Boaz heard the moaning of a million voices. The nation of Israel cried out as one. Boaz’s friends cried as well.

“Moses is really going to die,” whimpered Amitai, a chubby nine-year old. “He is leaving us. We will be alone.”

“Quiet,” Boaz hissed to Amitai and the other children. At ten years old, Boaz was the oldest and the natural leader. His mop of bright red hair refused to grow in one direction and freckles spread out on his pale face. “Moses is almost here. Wait until I stop him and then follow the plan.”

“I’m scared,” Amitai sniffled. “What if he gets angry? We’ll die.”

“Don’t worry,” Boaz waved his hand. “Moses will not hurt us. And even if he does, it’s worth the risk.”

“I’m not sure,” Amitai implored.

Boaz peaked through the bushes and spotted Moses approaching, escorted by Joshua.  

“Look, Joshua,” Boaz overheard Moses. “Wild gooseberries. I love these. God is gracing my last moments.” Moses plucked several of the ripe fruits, careful to avoid the thorns of the bush. He placed them in the folds of his robe. “I will save these for the climb up the mountain.”

“Stop!” Boaz jumped out from the bushes and blocked Moses, who towered above him. Moses’ thick beard was pure white and flowed gently over his cotton robe. Though he leaned lightly on his large staff, he looked as strong and vibrant as ever. Joshua at his side sported a pale blond beard and still wore light leather armor, with a sword hanging from his belt.

“Hello, Boaz son of Salmoon,” Moses said, a white bushy eyebrow raised high. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m not going to let you die.” Boaz’s voice trembled.

Moses smiled. “It is God’s command. I have always followed God’s command.”

Boaz waved at the bushes. Amitai led a row of four other children from behind the bushes. They walked between Moses and Joshua and grabbed onto Moses’ robe from behind. They closed their eyes.

“Oho!” Moses gasped. “What trickery have you hatched, Boaz?”

Boaz stepped forward and grasped the hem of Moses’ robe.

“We will not let you go. If you can’t go up to Mount Nevo, you can’t die. We will hold on to you for the rest of our lives. We are much younger than you and can hold on as long as we need.” Boaz looked up at Joshua. “No disrespect to you sir, but we want Moses to stay with us and take us into Canaan.” Joshua nodded silently.

Moses looked down and around at the children surrounding him.

“The blood of Nachshon the Daring runs true in your veins, Boaz. Your grandfather would have been pleased by your audacity. Children, we might as well make ourselves comfortable,” Moses said as he sat down on the ground.

The children sat down, still holding on to his robe.

“I have an important meeting to attend,” Moses said to the children. “My last one in this incarnation. God has requested my presence and you are delaying my mission.”

“There is one more mission we want you to do. Take us into Canaan.” Boaz demanded.

Moses sighed. “I wish to with all my heart, my dear Boaz. I would like nothing better than to feel the earth of the Promised Land beneath my feet. To breathe the air of its mountains. To taste its fruit. Its grapes. Its figs. To sit in the shade of its trees. To drink the sight of its sunrises and sunsets. But it is not to be.”

“Come with us. I don’t always listen to my parents,” Boaz whispered. “You have argued with God before. It’s right here across the river. Please.”

“I have often argued with God, and I argued much on this point, but I always listen in the end and so must you. My mission with the Children of Israel is complete. It has been long and difficult. God has assigned the conquest ofCanaanto Joshua. You must let me go.”

The other children looked nervously at Boaz.

“No,” Boaz pouted. “We need you. How will we manage without you?”

“That is why I must leave. You need to learn to manage without me. You have Joshua, you will have other leaders.” Moses tussled Boaz’s unruly hair and closed his eyes for a moment. “You, Boaz, will be a leader one day as well. And you have the Torah. Never forget the Torah. Never let its words leave your mouth. That will guard you better than anything. It is God’s word and we must follow it.”

The children continued to hold his robe.

“Have you heard how I killed Og the giant?” Moses asked.

The children nodded.

“I jumped to a very great height. Would you like to see that?”

The children looked at each other in confusion.

“But first I want to give you each a gift.”

Moses stood up and out of the folds of his robe he removed the ripe gooseberries. He raised his hands like a magician, showing one fruit in-between each of his spread out fingers. He flung one fruit at each of the children and one at Joshua, and then put the last one back in his robe. Boaz let the fruit bounce off his chest as he held tight to Moses’ robe. Joshua caught his fruit. The rest of the children caught the fruit, letting go of the robe.

Moses crouched for a second and then leapt a dozen feet into the air. Boaz, still clutching the robe, was pulled along, screaming. Moses caught Boaz in midair and they both fell back to the ground, with Boaz in Moses’ arms.

Moses put Boaz back on his feet. Boaz’s whole body shook. He had let go of Moses’ robe.

“I need to go now, Boaz,” Moses said.

“I don’t understand.”

“You will one day.”

“We will miss you.”

“I know. I will miss all of you too.”

Moses began to walk up the mountain, never to be seen by mortal man again. As he ascended, he drew the remaining gooseberry out of his robe and took a hearty bite. Joshua and the children watched Moses ascendMount Nevo until he was out of sight.

Joshua addressed Boaz and his friends. “Go back to your families, children. Be saddened by the loss of our teacher, our leader, but do not be upset. I felt as you do, wishing to stop him, but we need to learn when to let go.” Joshua’s bright green eyes looked at nothingness as he uttered the last line.

“You will lead us?” Boaz asked.

“Yes, young Boaz.”

“Moses told you what to do?”

“Indeed he did.”

“Then it will be okay then?”

“You see the city in the distance?” Joshua pointed at Jericho.

“It looks very strong.”

“It is Jericho. It controls the entire west bank of the Jordan River. Its walls are impregnable and its gate is made of iron. It is the key to conquering the land of Canaan. Do you think we can take it, my young warrior?”

“I d-don’t know.” Boaz stuttered.

“God has promised that we shall.”

“Th-then I guess we will.”

“How should we do it? Should we just wait for God to deliver it to us or should we attack and hope God helps us out in time?”

“Why are you asking me? I’m just a kid. Don’t you know what to do?”

“I know exactly what to do,” Joshua smiled briefly. “But now is not the time. My master has just left us and the void is still too terrible to think of. We shall mourn his passing. Then we shall cross the Jordan to enter Canaan. And then, young Boaz, you shall see the hand of God. The Canaanites shall rue the day we left Egypt. Jericho shall be the first to fall and the land will tremble in fear.”

“I would like to see that.”

“Would you now?” Joshua patted Boaz on the head. He stopped suddenly. “Curious,” Joshua whispered.

“What?” Boaz asked.

“I sense. I sense that you will have an important role to play. How unusual. In one so young,” Joshua said vaguely. “The grandson of Prince Nachshon the Daring.”

“What are you saying?”

Joshua looked into Boaz’s bright blue eyes. “The shadow of death is upon you.”

“What do you mean? What should I do?”

“Why, go into battle, of course.”

 * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Deuteronomy Chapter 34

1 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, even Gilead as far as Dan; 2 and all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the hinder sea; 3 and the South, and the Plain, even the valley of Jericho the city of palm-trees, as far as Zoar. 4 And the Lord said unto him: ‘This is the land which I swore unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying: I will give it unto thy seed; I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.’ 5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. 6 And he was buried in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-peor; and no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day. 7 And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. 8 And the children ofIsrael wept for Moses in the plains ofMoab thirty days.

Secondary Sources:

Rashi: The Children of Israel tried to prevent Moses from ascending Mount Nebo.